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(Paul Fraughton | Tribune file photo) Waterfowl wade in the waters of The Great Salt Lake earlier this year. A leading federal research says new pollution controls should make strides in reducing mercury — particularly the toxic form — in the natural environment. In 2003, researchers measured some of the highest concentrations anywhere in the Great Salt Lake.
Great Salt Lake an economic powerhouse for the state

Report says lake adds more than $1.3 billion annually to. the Beehive State’s economy.

First Published Feb 22 2012 04:59 pm • Last Updated Feb 23 2012 03:57 pm

The Great Salt Lake is more than just a giant, scenic and sometimes stinky puddle. It also pumps more than $1.3 billion into the state's economy every year.

At a glance

Online » More on the lake’s ecology, economy

To see the reports in detail, go to the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council’s Web page: www.gslcouncil.utah.gov and check the “activities” link.

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That's the finding of a new report presented by the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council on Wednesday.

"Economics go hand in hand with the lake's health," said Lynn de Freitas, director of the Friends of the Great Salt Lake after hearing the findings. "It's very compelling."

The report, previewed earlier this month by legislative budget makers, got a hearing Wednesday before the State Water Quality Board.

It was part of a multidimensional approach to assessing how healthy the lake is for the wildlife and plants that depend on it, as well as the economic value of everything from salt and magnesium mining to waterfowl hunting, sightseeing and brine shrimp harvesting.

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About 75 miles long and 35 miles wide, the Great Salt Lake is the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River. The remnant of a vast, prehistoric lake, it has no outflow and loses water only to evaporation.

Too salty to support fish and many other types of wildlife, it is a factory for minerals and for brine shrimp and brine flies. An icon for the state, it also is well-known for having some of the nation's highest toxic methyl mercury levels and for the smelly air it exudes sometimes, usually during the spring.

Leland Myers, chairman of the advisory committee and manager of the Central Davis Sewer District, highlighted the results of a scientific assessment of the lake's ecological resources, such as the quality of the waterfowl habitat, the mud flats and marshes. The report focused on four bays - Gunnison, Bear River, Gilbert and Farmington - and concluded that there are some trouble spots that need more attention to preserve their value in the future.

Myers said the message was simple: "Don't expect to get good economies out of the state unless you protect the ecology."

While many areas seem to be doing well, the report noted, the impounded wetlands and alkali knolls, or shrubby mud flats, of Farmington Bay are in poor health, as are the alkali knolls at Bear River Bay. In addition, there was too little scientific data on the open waters of the lake to really know how they are faring now.

"I think every single member of the Great Salt Lake Advisory Committee was surprised," said Don Leonard, who led the development of the economic analysis. "These are real economic impacts."

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